In the fall of 2012, I visited a Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas clinic on East 7th Street as part of an L Style G Style story I was writing. The organization had been plunged into controversy following the Texas Legislature’s 2011 decision to ban medical providers affiliated in any way with abortion services from participating in the Women’s Health Program. The legislature had also passed a budget that took more than $70 million from family planning services and moved it to other areas of the state budget.
The move by conservative legislators to remove Planned Parenthood from the Women’s Health Program prompted angry responses and a vow by the organization and its supporters to keep fighting for the right to provide health services through state programs. At the time I walked into the clinic, a large sign reading “Yes We’re Open, Thank You Austin,” fluttered outside as testimony to the swell of support from the community.
Attempts to cut Planned Parenthood out of the women’s health picture in Texas also garnered a considerable amount of attention, not all of it flattering. News outlets from the BBC to PBS covered the battle, and even medical journals are studying the effects of cutting a major public health provider out of the public health scene.
Last week Texas courts struck a seemingly fatal blow to the organization’s fight by refusing to grant a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the state from excluding Planned Parenthood from the newly-organized Texas Women’s Health Program.
Conservative lawmakers insist that Texas women will still have the same access to women’s health care without Planned Parenthood clinics. But according to some lawyers and lawmakers, the move to exclude the organization will leave millions of low-income and uninsured women, particularly in rural areas where Planned Parenthood clinics are the only women’s health providers for many hundreds of miles, without access to critical health care.
At the same time, some Capitol insiders have said that some of the funding cut from family planning services could be restored in the upcoming legislative session.
As the 2013 legislative session gears up — and it’s looking like this will be a particularly feisty session — I will be watching with interest what happens in the fight over the details of the Texas Women’s Health Program. And if you know any Texas women, you should too.